2016 HVAC Hall of Fame — Garry Upton: Doctor of Data

2016 HVAC Hall of Fame — Garry Upton: Doctor of Data

For more than 35 years, Upton’s career as a professional research analyst has been to a large degree devoted to the HVAC industry. His American Home Comfort Study has provided contractors with valuable insight into the services and products consumers WANT their HVAC contractors to provide.

If knowledge is power, Garry Upton is among the mightiest of men.

Garry Upton

For more than 35 years, Upton’s career as a professional research analyst has to a great extent been devoted to the heating, ventilation and air conditioning industry — formulating questions, gathering answers, and analyzing volumes of responses related to customers’ home comfort system and service preferences. He’s been the guy to sweat the details, crunch the numbers, and serve as the ‘Doctor of Data’ for business owners wanting to do more. His reports — most notably, his popular American Home Comfort studies — have helped heating and air conditioning contractors and manufacturers build more consumer-responsive businesses.

ContractingBusiness.com opened the doors to the HVAC Hall of Fame in 1994.

In September of this year, Garry Upton, 71, will retire from his position as executive vice president of Decision Analyst, an Arlington, Tex.-based global marketing research and analytical consulting firm specializing in strategy research, new product development, advertising testing, and advanced modeling for marketing decision optimization.

His service to the HVAC industry has been outstanding. The good news: he plans on doing some consulting here and there.

Garry Upton has had a very fulfilling career, rich in strong friendships in the HVAC world. That will most likely be what he will cherish most, long after he’s settled into spending more time with his wife, Diana, and their children, Kelly, Jeffrey and Nicole.  

In addition to the HVAC industry, Garry Upton’s research experience includes significant work with industries as diverse as travel, packaged goods, publishing, not-for-profit groups, retail, public utilities, and oil and gas companies. He is an accomplished professional, and a gentleman in every sense of the word.

Guidance for Major Corporations
Garry Upton is a product of the University of Nebraska, with postgraduate work through a joint Northwestern University and an A.C. Nielsen program. His first research position was as a retail industries operations and client service manager for A.C. Nielsen. In his 10 years with A.C. Nielsen, Upton earned seven promotions.

HAS GARRY UPTON'S RESEARCH HELPED YOUR BUSINESS TO PROSPER? TELL HIM SO, AT COMFORTECH. UPTON WILL RECEIVE THE AWARD DURING THE COMFORTECH AWARD PRESENTATION. REGISTER FOR THE SHOW TODAY!

He then moved to Dr. Pepper, as a market research manager. He prospered there too, and made valuable contributions to the soft drink company’s research and resulting market expansion. Tough times hit after the company unwisely acquired Canada Dry, among other unsettling managerial decisions. He left in the wake of a 1984 leveraged buyout.

While at Lennox, Upton found new ways in which consumer research could help HVAC dealers grow their businesses. One of those was by using focus groups, where consumers spoke freely about their HVAC service preferences.

But as it happens, talented people always find a home. A coworker told him of a research opening at Lennox. In the interview, Upton told Lennox managers of his efforts to help Dr. Pepper expand into new regions of the country, something Lennox wanted to do. Upton climbed aboard, and for seven years, was a major contributor to Lennox’s regional expansion.

Two of Upton’s closest friends from his Lennox days are John and Vicki Laplant, who are now consultants for the Service Roundtable organization.

“Garry has always strived to make the HVACR industry more professional,” Vicki Laplant says. “As an expert in market research, he not only surveyed consumers to provide relevant information, but he made suggestions about how the information could be utilized and applied in the business to make it more successful, professional and profitable. By making individual contractors more sophisticated and professional one company at a time, he made a significant impact on the professionalism of the industry as a whole.”

Upton joined Decision Analyst in 1992, and began to share a wealth of knowledge and experience about the home comfort industry, which empowered Decision Analyst to add the HVAC industry to its areas of expertise.
Garry Upton's reports have appeared in ContractingBusiness.com as the Comfort FAQ, with helpful tables to tell the story.

Matt Michel, CEO of Service Roundtable, was another of Upton’s associates at Lennox. They would work together again some years later at Decision Analyst, where they co-developed the American Home Comfort Syndicated Study.

“Garry is one of my mentors and friends. He brought a new level of sophistication to marketing within the industry and oversaw the preeminent syndicated consumer research tool for the industry,” Michel says. “Those who know Garry, know he is always willing to help others and always finds the good in people. If you ever need a kind word, look to Garry. Because of his demeanor and support, he made those around him perform better.”

While at Lennox, Upton found new ways in which consumer research could help HVAC dealers grow their businesses. One of those was by using focus groups, where consumers spoke freely about their HVAC service preferences. After some tweaking, the consumer focus group became a valuable research tool.

“We had conducted a number of studies to find out what consumers thought of our brand, and what they thought of the contractors that installed it,” Upton shares. “But when we presented the findings, dealers said they wanted to hear from consumers themselves, not something translated by corporate management.”

From that time forward, Upton produced video recordings of the focus groups, which showed the consumers’ voicing their comments and concerns about HVAC dealers and service. The dealers loved it.

What always impressed us about Garry was his positive outlook on the world. He just bonded with people. He could speak with someone on the phone for 10 minutes and they’d be best friends for life. He must have a thousand close friends, and he treats them all equally. — Jerry Thomas, CEO, Decision Analyst

“They didn’t trust me saying it, but they trusted it when it came from the actual consumer,” he says. “It was a wonderful change, and a very exciting time in our lives.”

New Heights in HVAC Research
“Garry has a genuine heart of gold,” says Jerry Thomas, president and CEO of Decision Analyst. “What always impressed us about Garry was his positive outlook on the world. He just bonded with people. He could speak with someone on the phone for 10 minutes and they’d be best friends for life. He must have a thousand close friends, and he treats them all equally.”

Upton joined Decision Analyst in 1992, and began to share a wealth of knowledge and experience about the home comfort industry, which empowered Decision Analyst to add the HVAC industry to its areas of expertise.

My research was saying that contractors needed some sort of relationship-building tool if they were going to survive, and that was when the idea of Service Agreements hit me. This whole industry was kind of the last of the hunter-gatherer mentality. If the phone didn’t ring, they’d go hunting or fishing.— Garry Upton

“I remember Garry talking about going into various geographic areas, getting all the dealers together for training, or for meetings, or plotting strategy at the local level,” Thomas recalls. “He did a tremendous job for Lennox in setting up new contractor programs, and developing new ways to train and motivate them. When he joined Decision Analyst, he brought that love of the HVAC industry here and set up our HVAC practice. That included any organization that worked through contractors, distributors and dealers.

The HVAC Service Agreement became a tool by which contractors would hunt and fish less, and maintain regular contact with customers more. It revolutionized the HVAC industry.

“He loved that part of the HVAC business. So, when he joined us, he began to develop the HVAC industry, including the contractor and dealer networks, as a new business area for Decision Analyst research and consulting services. He provided great guidance and leadership,” Thomas adds.

One of the HVAC industry’s greatest service culture breakthroughs occurred after Upton joined Decision Analyst, when the concept of Service Agreements was born and nurtured.

“My research was saying that contractors needed some sort of relationship-building tool if they were going to survive, and that was when the idea of Service Agreements hit me. This whole industry was kind of the last of the hunter-gatherer mentality,” Upton explains. “If the phone didn’t ring, they’d go hunting or fishing.”

Thus, the Service Agreement became a tool by which contractors would hunt and fish less, and maintain regular contact with customers more. It revolutionized the HVAC industry. The concept has since been modified to suit each contractor’s needs, but the basic idea remains the same: Service Agreements work, because Service Agreements bring work. And Garry Upton wants to see contractors at work.

Service Agreements work, because Service Agreements bring work. And Garry Upton wants to see contractors at work.

“The business model that I hate, is the one that says HVACR is a ‘seasonal business.’ And as a seasonal business, I’m going to hire technicians to fix or replace what’s broken, not talk to the homeowner if I don’t want to, and do four calls a day.’ Then the season ends and they lay off the technician, who goes into business for himself, and works with the customer he installed the system for earlier in the season. And the frenzy continues,” Upton exclaims.

“But more contractors are getting it. Many more are using Service Agreements. It’s one of the best tools any industry has ever come up with.”

One of many contractors who appreciates Upton’s research is Robert Wilkos, business leader for Roussos Air Conditioning, Lynn Haven, Fla. Wilkos is an expert in developing service companies, and has been doing so at Roussos since 2012. Prior to that, he was with Peaden Air Conditioning, which grew to become a dominant market leader. Throughout his career, Wilkos has relied on Upton’s precise findings, and has applied  them, with great results.

“I attended a Comfortech presentation by Garry when the American Home Comfort Study was first unveiled. The data fascinated me, and I applied it at Peaden, by making service plan sales the number one priority; to start and groom the relationship with homeowners to satisfy their needs and wants, as revealed in the study. I’ve applied the same tactics here at Roussos.”  The results: Roussos’ Service Agreements have increased eight-fold in four years. 

GARRY UPTON WILL RECEIVE HIS HALL OF FAME RECOGNITION DURING THE COMFORTECH SHOW

“Subsequent and updated versions of the study led me into home performance contracting, which was well received by homeowners with existing comfort issues, and gained us more loyal customers,” Wilkos says.
Upton and Decision Analyst have recently finalized the 2016 American Home Comfort Study, and the results are positive.

“This year, over 45% of the people who replaced or added central HVAC equipment or a mini-split obtained a Service Agreement. Last year, 37% had a Service Agreement, and 76% who had a contractor come to their home, had them in to do a check-up on a working unit, not for an emergency repair,” he reports.
Upton continues to find encouragement in the still unlimited potential of the HVAC contracting business, and by what the industry means to people, and to the nation.

“HVAC remains a local business, and they’re being taken over by the great grandchildren of the founders,” he says.

“Another positive, is that the millennials will come back. Until then, you have a lot of folks who are older that are in a house they want to fix up for their retirement, or sell so they can go someplace else in retirement. So, it’s never been a better time for the contractor to go in and help the homeowner build what they want into the home.

“Those contractors that ‘get it,’ are the ones that view their employees as a force that can build relationships, specifically through the Service Agreement,” he continues. “If you can change your business model from getting in, fixing it, and leaving, to getting in, consulting with the homeowner about things they want to change, and building rapport and trust — all of a sudden you have a sustainable, local business that’s there to put your kids and grandkids through school, and that your kids and grandkids can own down the road.

"But it has to expand to things outside the soul of the house, such as alarms and security. HVAC in and of itself needs to expand, but HVAC should be the center of that expansion.”

CONGRATULATIONS, Garry Upton! Your dedication and professionalism have inspired countless HVAC contractors to strive for excellence in customer service!  

 

 

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